Writers: You Can Only Control the Process, Not the Results

Every writer wants to sell more books.

Every writer wants to find more readers.

But if you are writing for the purpose of results, you’ll be frequently disappointed in this cut-throat, highly-competitive business.  The faster you realize that, as a writer, the only thing you control is the process, the faster you’ll be at peace with the results – whether good or bad.

I figured this out long ago. I began novel-writing and play-writing because I couldn’t contain the creativity that started bubbling over in my brain. It became my release and eventually my passion. When I eventually decided to start putting my works out in the public eye, I received a rude awakening – not because the results were bad, no, because the results were good.

My first novel started to sell some. Then reviews started coming in, positive reviews, and before I knew it my first novel had racked-up 80+ reviews on Amazon. I was floored and even thought quietly to myself that this isn’t so hard after all.

Ha. That’s when my rude awakening began to seep in. I suppose it was more gradual than rude, but it was certainly real nonetheless. Book two, for some reason, seemed more difficult to market. Then the rules changed at Amazon, and certain big promotion sites changed the way they did business. Everything got more competitive, and before I knew it, I had no idea how to sell books anymore.

Well, it turns out that I didn’t know in the first place. When I think back upon it, I have no idea how my first book did so well in getting reviews. Am I doing anything different now? Yes, actually. I’m better at marketing now. I work harder now. And has it led to more results?

Not really.

So what’s the deal? For me, the deal is that I don’t know how to sell books. But who cares!

Not me. I know what I can control and that’s my writing process.

So I ask myself these questions:

Am I writing the stories I want to tell?

Am I putting the proper time into revisions: 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts?

Am I meticulous in the editing process?

Do I have an editor helping me improve my book?

Have I recruited beta readers to give me early feedback?

Am I purposeful when thinking about cover design and book layout?

Do I put time and effort into recruiting reviewers who will post honest reviews?

Do I market with variety in mind?

Am I trying new marketing avenues?

Am I adjusting to new trends and reading up on new developments?

Am I reading other blogs to get feedback about process and the book industry in general?

Am I striving to be better?

If I can answer “yes” to every one of those questions above, then I simply do not care about results because I can’t control them anyways.

I can, however, control the process. If I can look back without regrets and say that I’ve written the book I wanted to write and I marketed it in the absolute best way I know how, then I think it’s safe to say that I have successfully fulfilled the requirement of my passion for writing.

How about you? Are you concerned with results or process?

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Are you feeling lucky, Photoshop?

I know. I know. I’m an author. Leave the design work for the professionals. And don’t EVER attempt to design your own book cover. Foolish, it is.

I agree with all of the above, and yet …

I can’t help but tinker.

When I use Photoshop, it’s 10% know-how, 30% You Tube videos, and 60% dumb luck! I have, at times, designed things which I consider acceptable. I’ve even had some people occasionally mention how my skills are getting better. But the reality is, Photoshop is a supped up 50s convertible and I approach it with a screwdriver made for eye glasses. It’s a bad miss match.

However, I’ve been getting lucky lately a little more often than I have in the past. I had toyed around with the design of my new book and I got to the place where I felt it was nearly acceptable. I received some feedback from folks, mostly positive, and kept messing with the minutia until I thought I was finished. I was even going to seek some professional help to clean it up and then design the book’s sequel. I had tried once to use the same template to create book 2 but it was disastrous, so I abandoned the idea.

Until about a week ago. For some reason, on a particularly creative and cocky day, I decided to work on book 2 again. And voila! Within a matter of 10 minutes, I got lucky. Perfect photo, edited into the background, I was amazed at how good it looked. It was in fact way better than the cover I thought was acceptable for book 1. This burst of creativity led me to try to create a cover for book 3, even though I haven’t written it yet. After another short period of creation, I had book 3, it looked fantastic, way better, in fact than that book 1. I was lucky again. Twice in one week.

That made me go back to the book 1 cover again and I started a redesign, one that I never would have thought of six months ago as I was designing it. One idea led to the next and I finagled enough luck out of my keyboard to substantially improve the cover for book 1.

So is it luck? Or am I getting better?

I’m convinced that’s it both. I’m not a good enough designer that I can set out with a goal in mind and make it happen. Oh no, those are the real artists. But I am at the point where I can take what I have, work with a bunch of scenarios until I will hopefully come across one combination which I will be satisfied with.

That’s where I am with Photoshop. I can easily spend three enjoyable hours cutting, erasing, editing, recoloring, combining, and importing all kinds of items in the search of the elusive good design. It’s a welcome respite from writing, a different type of creativity which is fun and challenging.

So whatever it is that you enjoy doing, even though you feel like an amateur, keep at it. You might find that you end up getting lucky more often than not. And soon you’ll realize that your luckiness is not the result of random accidents.

NOTE: I’ll be releasing these covers in the near future. Hope you like them.

Adding an Element of the Supernatural to My Writing

My writing, especially my novels, for the most part have been grounded in real life. It’s my nature to keep things focused on the tangible. I love stories of humanity, embedded in history and real-life drama. It’s what I seek in my movie-watching as well. I’ll take “The Bridge of Spies” over any Marvel movie any day of any week of any year. (Please, I hope I don’t get started on super hero movies. Please, no.) The only place I have dabbled in the strange and unrealistic is with my one-act short plays. I’ve written a bunch of crazy stuff, even about inanimate objects, but they are still all meant to tell human stories even if there are no humans in the story.

My novels, on the other hand have always been protected from the craziness. My debut novel, Beauty Rising, focused on a tragic story about thirty-something who finally grows up when he takes his father’s ashes to Vietnam. My second novel, The Recluse Storyteller, is about a secluded, lonely woman who tells wild stories to herself. The Reach of the Banyan Tree is my historical Vietnam novel about three generations of American men who were affected by Vietnam during three different time periods. A Love Story for a Nation is about an ex-writer, who after experiencing a terrible tragedy, decides to protest a brutal government regime by standing quietly in the city square. And finally, Which Half David is about a mission worker in Southeast Asia who becomes tempted by an old flame.

Human stories, real life, tragedy, drama, heart-gripping dialogue, and humor. No crazy fantasy or supernatural elements.

Until now.  And it’s a trilogy.

My soon-to-be-named trilogy is two-thirds written. Book one is having its final edit as I write. It’s coming soon. I have a book cover – still not revealed. Book two is finished. I’m working through it’s second draft and book three is partially outlined. And I’ve done it. I’ve expanded my repertoire.

I decided to write this on a whim, when I had a strange thought in my head, a small girl in a white dress, eating a pomegranate, hovering over an old man sleeping. That was the genesis of my trilogy. Why I had that particular image in my head, I have no idea. But it was there, and I used it.

I first had to start justifying the scene. This small person was hovering. People don’t hover, and they don’t do so eating pomegranates. That would be terribly messy. So I had to decide what makes her hover, who is she, what is she, where did she come from, why is she hovering over this old man’s bed?

That is where the exciting discovery part of writing took over. I just started writing and before I knew it, the old man was being whisked through time to various important points of 20th century history. As I wrote, I began including another character to help balance out the little flying one. Then I had to create their backstory and justify how they can do all of the things they do. I did all of that, but I don’t tell the reader everything. It’s part of the mystery for them to discover for themselves.

I’ve had so much fun writing these books, and while they are a departure from my normal stuff, they are, in some ways, not that different. I’m still telling human stories, embedded in history, but this time, we have some new and fun companions along for the ride.

I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Soon. Very soon!

 

Crazy Ideas

When writing, should you use your ‘crazy ideas’?

Down below all the draft chapters of my new novel in my precious Scrivener writing program, I noticed a folder I entitled “Crazy Ideas.” I had stashed every outlandish plot idea that I had thought of in case I had the courage enough to actually use it. When I originally jotted down these ideas, I had doubted that any of them would ever make it into my manuscript.

I was wrong. All of them made it.

Why? And was it the right choice?

Let me explain the ‘why’ first. As the plot of my book unfolded, I had decisions to make: do I play it safe or do I try to push the envelope on this plot, making it more complex, more intertwined with additional layers of intrigue. Or should I play it safe and forget the crazy stuff because there is a risk to writing using the crazy ideas.

What risk?

Will I be able to make it all work?  Will it make sense? Will I be able to make sense of it? Will it stray out of plausibility and into unbelievable coincidence? Will it make the plot too dense, too heavy with overlapping objectives?

All of these are tangible risks of trying the crazy ideas. But I realized that I couldn’t do it any other way. If my novel is going to burn up under its own weight, it’s going to go down fighting with all its potential visible and apparent to the reader.

And now, as I’m writing the final few chapters of the book, I’m feeling the strain of my decisions. It’s hard making sure all the strands of this book will come together in a tidy and coherent fashion. It will take a lot of thinking, rewriting, revising, and good old-fashioned luck to pull this off. I’m going to try the best I can, which leads us to the final question.

Was using the crazy ideas the correct choice?

This ultimately will be a question for my readers.

 

In My Writing World

Here’s an update on what’s on my writing plate.

Book 1 of my new trilogy is currently with my editor. It’s weeks away from being finished. Tentative release scheduled for December 2017. This is a crazy one. More details to follow.

Book 2 of my new trilogy is 80% finished. (first draft, that is) I’ve been working hard this summer on this one to make it an exciting follow-up. Titles are still tentative for all the books in the series, but they are coming. This one would be on schedule to be released about 6 months after book 1. Tentative: mid-2018.

Last week, I took a break from novel writing and wrote this:

HundredPitchAtBatsmall

My first baseball story! It’s been a long time coming. I had such a fun time writing this last week that it spawned a whole series of ideas for more baseball stories. So I now have a long term goal of writing a collection of baseball stories that I’ll publish at some point in the future. I am a W.P. Kinsella fan, so my writing hopes to be in the tradition of his wonderful books.

Just finished a short play, “Silent Night: The (Almost) True Story” which is a modern re-make of the Hans Gruber and Joseph Mohr story about the origins of the song. This will be directed by my good friend as part of an upcoming Christmas show.

And long term, I have a musical project I’m working on with my composer buddy. Plus, I have book 3 of my new trilogy to write.

I also guarantee you that additional writing projects will be popping up at any moment because that’s how my brain works.

That’s a little update on where things are heading for me. What about you?

A Writer on Pause No More

I’m a writer.

But it’s not what buys the bread and puts kids through college. For that, I am also a teacher.

But the best part of being a teacher and writer is, of course, summer. Summer is when I can hit the resume button and become a full-time writer again. I am at that blissful part of my year as I currently write this. Writing happiness has returned once again.

I’ve had the most wonderful writing routine the past three days, and it looks sustainable for the next month or so. I carve out of my day about three hours to sit alone with my laptop, immersed in my thoughts, and punch out as much coherent dialogue and description that I can during that time frame. Then I pack it up, get back to family time, cook some dinner, and ponder where my next writing episode the following day will take me.

Three hours is typically the maximum amount of time that I can concentrate on writing. Sometimes only two depending on how the chapter is coming together. By the time I reach the two or three hour mark, I’m ready for a break. I need to allow what I have written to sink in my brain and make sure it is exactly where I want to take the story. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself. Three steps forward. The next day, I’ll backtrack and re-read what I wrote. Edit and revise. Check and double-check, and then plow on to the next chapter or segment. When I get to do this this everyday for two or three hours, I can make a lot of headway, and within a month, I can have a solid outline for a complete novel.

I’m currently working on book 2 of my first trilogy. I’m already over the 42,000 word mark while cruising into the latter half of the book. I’m having a blast with this story and can’t wait to see where it will take me.

A summer where the pause button is no more. The pedal is to the metal. Full speed ahead. It’s exciting. Stay tuned.

How about you? How do you carve out time for writing?

Writing Progress isn’t Always Visible

A month ago, I boasted that the first novel in my first trilogy was complete and the second novel is half-written.

Today, I can boast that the first novel in my first trilogy is almost complete and the second novel is half-written.

Wait. What? Am I moving backwards?

It may feel like that. Writing has a way of moving at a glacial pace. But that is okay, even preferable. Sometimes you need to take a step backwards if you want to jump two steps ahead.

I started writing this first novel back in December 2015. Trust me, I’ve never dilly-dallied so much. The issue arose when I decided that the story needed to continue, so I put the brakes on my novel in hopes of mapping out where I wanted the story to go.

I assured myself that the first novel was still complete. Just in waiting.

I was wrong. So I revised it once again.

Then I pushed on to novel two and got about half way through it when I realized that novel one still wasn’t sitting right in the pit of my writing stomach. I sighed deeply and decided to look at it once more. I am so glad I did.

Besides fighting back some discrepancies which arose from writing book 2, I found a host of other mistakes and poorly worded phrases which I swear were NOT there the last time I edited it. Those blasted writing gremlins. Sabotage. Clearly. I had actually sent this previous version to my editor whom I am glad hadn’t started reading it yet. Because, no! Stop! It wasn’t ready. Just kidding.

It can feel like I’m getting nowhere because book 2 is still only half way complete. That was last month’s news as well.

But I look at it like this. I am strengthening the foundation and core of this entire story. By revising one more time, I am pushing the quality to a new height which will benefit all three of the books of the trilogy.

Writing progress comes in many forms. It’s not only when you write a new chapter. It’s also when you put the building blocks in place to create better chapters in the future.

I had an artificial timeline of when I wanted to release this first book, but all that must take a back seat to quality. Must. Timelines and expectations have to wait.

I want to do this right, so let the unseen writing hand get to work.